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Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

Stating the obvious: I have not blogged in a long while.  Life caught up with me.  You know how they say that if you’re so busy trying to record your life, you’re missing it?  I certainly can understand that sentiment.  On the contrary, writing down thoughts, impressions, memories, contributes wholeheartedly to living  of an examined life (a la Socrates: “the life which is unexamined is not worth living”).  So, I’m in both camps.  I’ve been living a lot – not that it has been overly exciting, some very bad spots, some quite interesting and good – and it felt good most of the time not running to record every moment.  That said, there were some moments when I wished I had my camera, when I was dying to share.  All in moderation.  As always.  Sometimes it’s good to keep a diary, and sometimes it gets in the way.

Here are some photo highlights of the last months.  Enjoy!

New wine bar in my neighborhood. Cute, huh?

Yemenite restaurant in the HaTikva neighborhood shuk (market). That is lachoch (yes, throat clearing sound times two), a Yemeni-style bread which resembles a crumpet; the other bread with the egg on top is malawach, flaky, crisp, oodles of layers of goodness and fat; and the two sauces are chilbeh (yes, clear your throat) – a dip made mainly from fresh Fenugreek, and then raw tomato (tradtionally eaten with malawach).

My first cup of Kopi Luwak. Yup, most expensive cup of coffee I’ve ever had. Worth it to say I drank coffee that was eaten and excreted by a civet. Lovely and smooth.

It’s not a good photo, but this is the impressive, beautiful barrel aging room at the Domaine du Castel winery – one of Israel’s oldest and best boutique wineries.

Cured beef, horseradish, and Rioja at a happening joint just outside the shuk on market day.

Chateau Lynch Bages – a Bordeaux – shared by the participants at a wine seminar I was at. The Irish have a strange history in Bordeaux – worth looking up…

Sushi, Sashimi, and Nigiri at the “Al HaMayim” restaurant in Herzliya, right on the beach. Amazing place. Phenomenal sushi – and not just for Israel. Fish comes in fresh every day, and is thrown out if not used by the end of the day. Simply done, beautifully cut. The most creative one was an eel with scallop nigiri covered with a small slab of foie gras.

A photo of me taking a photo. On a Jerusalem Hills winery-hopping day. We visited Clos de Gat, Flam, and Domaine du Castel.

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Homemade pumpkin pie!

 Thanksgiving: my favorite holiday

In my invitation, this is how I described Thanksgiving to my Israeli friends:

For those not especially familiar, Thanksgiving is a secular American holiday celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November.  We take a moment out of our lives and give thanks for all we have – and eat massive amounts of American food (hope you like green bean casserole and pumpkin-marshmallow bake).  In theory, we mark the date of the “first Thanksgiving” the Pilgrims shared with the Indians in Massachusetts in 1621 after having survived the first difficult year in the New World.  For a good overview of the history of Thanksgiving see: http://history1900s.about.com/od/1930s/a/thanksgiving.htm.  It’s like Passover, but for everyone and anyone.  I think it should be an international holiday.

They don’t quite get it, but it’s still important for me to do.  As for the meal, I never cease to be amazed at how disgusted everyday Israelis are of pumpkin pie.  I basically made a quintuple recipe – two double-stuff pies (one pictured above) and 2 dozen pie-cupcakes.  Three-quarters of one pie got eaten, along with a small handful of mini-pies.  Half of our twenty or so guests were American, so you can see how little and unadventurous the palates were.  The apple pie went over a bit better – the prettiest apple pie I’ve ever made, actually – and most people don’t seem to know it’s easy to make.  Well, almost all pies are easy, depending on the filling.  Just mix up whatever you want to cook and pour into the crust.  Apple pie, being made entirely of apple, is usually just made up of apple slices, a bit of sugar, and cinnamon.  Pumpkin pie, so easy to make in the US with canned pumpkin, is infinitely more difficult when you have to go out and buy your own pumpkin, core it, cut off the rind, boil large chunks, and then press and blend the cooked meat – all before mixing in the actual pie ingredients.  I will use the word homemade here quite frequently, because it truly was – nothing canned.

Surprisingly enough, my homemade sweet potato marshmallow casserole was a big hit, although they did not understand why it wasn’t in the dessert category.  I suppose nobody can say no to a dish covered in marshmallows.  The child in us all simply jumps out of our skins.  My family’s recipe calls for the sweet potato mash to be mixed with a large can of pineapple chunks (syrup removed first) and sprinkled heavily with cinnamon, before being topped by our preservative-packed confection.

The turkey was divine!  Again, Israelis are stunned and impressed at the buying and cooking of a whole turkey.  Now, Israelis, you must understand, eat a lot of turkey.  More than most countries.  But the form it takes is almost exclusively in cold cuts and schwarma, if you can believe it.  Even huge cuts of meat for roasting are pretty rare.  I’ve never seen a roast in Israel.  The closest is goulash with big chunks of meat.  So you can imagine the oddity of a whole bird.  I brined mine for about 15 hours (it was about a 16-17 pound bird) in homemade brine I improvised around an Alton Brown recipe.  My brine-broth contained crystallized ginger among other exotic things.  If you’ve never brined a bird – DO – it makes a huge difference in the juiciness, tenderness, and intensity of flavor.  Of course butter helps enormously too, and herbs under the skin along with it.  The stuffing was as usual Martha Stewart’s chestnut stuffing, a recipe my sister and I have favored for years.  Lots of butter, sage, cups and cups of chopped chestnut, and high quality bread.  I’m still eating the leftovers quite happily.

In any case, in any case.  Thanksgiving was a hit at our home – my sister and I are very proud of 2011’s feast.


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I am sometimes privileged enough to get to participate in days and evenings that many people would die to experience, or have a hidden camera along with them.  As a writer, I don’t need one.  And believe me, I’d be a fool not to use my experiences as fodder for something extraordinary one day.  I won’t disclose direct details and names are omitted (don’t worry, nothing as sordid as you’d think).  The last 3 days of my life have simply been surreal – nothing short of it at all.  Billed as a combination “giving back and coming together,” the winery created a three-day program for every single worker – yes, we shut down for three days.  Included in this adventure:

  •  Community service – I spent most of the day breathing in ungodly amounts of sawdust and varnish fumes in an enclosed greenhouse for about 6 hours for the benefit of a community center for the mentally challenged – the folks came down to help us, and I ended up getting sprayed by said varnish for several minutes.  Ah well.  All for good.  I did get to commune with donkeys, ducks, and chickens that day in their petting zoo – always a plus in my book – and it was amazing to see what 6 hours’ hard work by 100+ people actually can accomplish.  It was great – although the sawdust ring and piles of sediment in the bathtub that night (I kid you not) were a cause of some concern to me.
  • A romantic tour of the old city of Jerusalem.  Great fun.  Churches, ramparts, architecture.  I’ve done it at least half a dozen times, and even led unofficial versions of it for friends.  But I loved it.  Towards the end I got tired, and when we got to the incredible Austrian Hospice, I simply disappeared into the cafe-garden with a lovely creamy Meinl cappuccino while the group went up to the roof for another half-hour of pointing-at-buildings.  It’s a rose garden, quiet, and two foreign gentlemen smoked cigars next to me.  At that moment I was happy.  I loved my employer, my colleagues, the retreat, the weather, the location.  It was a great day.
  • Ridiculous performances — I hate using ridiculous to describe performance art, as artists try hard and need to earn a living.  There just happens to be a lot I cannot tolerate, and I was subjected to some extremely…well…difficult work.  Folksy mediocre sort of stuff — the fact that many, perhaps not most, but not a few, of my work colleagues enjoyed some if not all of the two evenings’ entertainment, puzzled me.  But let me leave it at that. To each his own.  A fantastic exercise in anthropology, one could say.
  • A scavenger hunt.  A big fat three-hour frantic massive-list hunt, 21st-century-style (all evidence photographed, video’ed, and internet research often required).  We were broken up into groups and I knew almost nobody in mine.  Running all over Jerusalem, climbing the YMCA tower (450 steps up) to count carillon bells, taking photographs while sitting inside random people’s cars, teaching tourists to speak a sentence in Hebrew about our company, archery in the park, and on and on.  It was exhausting.  We didn’t win, but now I have 7 new friends at the winery, most of whom I never would have met, approached, or sat with at a meal.  The fact that I enjoyed this is a huge credit to the HR people at the winery.  They know their stuff.  It could have been cheesy-city, but almost every group participated with gusto.  It was great.
  • Raucous late-night adventures in the shuk — my favorite part of the trip — reminded me of my adventures in Bordeaux.  A small group (12 or so) of people from almost every walk of life (department) of the winery decided to head out for some post-cheesy-art living it up on the town.  We found ourselves at the Casino de Paris – a hip new bar-eatery in the middle of Machaneh Yehuda shuk (market).  Yes, hidden among the vegetable stalls is quite a chic place, bright, friendly, excellent booze, people spilling out the door on a Monday night.  We drank, ate, drank, told stories, drank, made merry, and drank under the stars beside the covered stalls outside the warm little bar.  Then we made our way to the famous Machaneh Yehuda restaurant a couple blocks away.  We drank, ate, drank, and made merry all over again, to a much higher and stranger degree.  With stranger foods (shellfish after midnight).  Stranger objects (wearing tea towels somehow became part of this segment of the evening). Stranger liquors (we started the evening with high-end Cognac and single malt Scotch, and somehow ended up finishing it off with cheap Arak).  So it goes.  Interesting taxi-back-to-hotel arrangements.  And lots and lots of ibuprofen.  I’m quite proud of myself, really.  I can really hold my liquor, or so it seems to me.  I didn’t tell any bad sex jokes, I didn’t vomit, I didn’t fall down, and I hardly cried at all.  I think it was a well-maintained buzz through and through.  In the course of 6 hours (with food) I think I consumed 3 glasses of wine, 2 whiskys, three sips of beer (one ale, two stout – a knowledgeable person told me to try stout with whisky and it was an excellent combination), one tiny sip of Arak, and a glass of bubbly.  It was a fantastic evening.  Had it occurred at the American Colony as I’d wanted, it would have been better.  It’ll have to wait for the next adventure.  But it was very good as it was.

It doesn’t often occur to people that they live interesting lives — but on this particular occasion, it occurred to me that I do.  I don’t make wine, but I get to work with people who do.  People who make world-class amazing wine.  And that counts for something.  It’s amazing when you know you’re working with and for good people, for a good cause.  Wine is a luxury product, I suppose, but it’s far more essential than a Lexus or foie gras or an Xbox, I think.  It’s a connection to land, to history, to religion, to people, to experience.  What’s a wedding without wine?  New Years?  Anniversaries?  Birthdays? Beuf Bourgignon? Coq au Vin?  I’m back to stressed out life — and even if it doesn’t seem charmed 99% of the time — it is a charmed existence in many ways.  There’s always that after-work glass of wine waiting.

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As promised, here are some things I ate or saw in France (Bordeaux, Paris, Giverny) a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

Creme Brulee at an everyday kind of brasserie at the Place St Michel. Delicious. Burned to perfection.

Steak Tartar at Le Bistrot du Sommelier in Bordeaux, 163 Rue Georges Bonnac. Also fabulous. Very laid back. Very "homey" food. But it's entirely prix fixe, fast, rude-friendly (I suppose you'd call it), and certainly an experience. We had pink Champagne that night.

Fish, artfully jumping out of and diving back into...ice at Auchon, mega-awesome-supermarket

Tourte aux pommes. Giverny. Respite from the tourist hoards I had a luncheon fit for only the pudgiest of gourmands. No holds barred, a large bottle of San Pellegrino, 500 mL of red Bordeaux, duck pate, lamb brochette with amazing gratined potatoes, and this chunky rustic natural apple pie. Followed by coffee.

The potatoes!!! Best part of my lunch by far in Giverny.

The yummy lucky ducky luncheon I treated myself to on my very-hot-art-and-shopping- in-le-marais-day. What better than a salad on a summer afternoon? That would be fois gras (center) duck confit and preserved duck all around atop some heavily-dressed greens. Heaven. I believe I had a carafe of Sauvignon (blanc).

Cafe de Deux Magots. The famed literary cafe where all the greats drank and dined. St Germain. And now we, the tourist hoards, pay tenfold what the starved artists a century ago paid - and I'm not talking about inflation. I said to hell with it, it's expensive anyway, I might as well get what I want. Better a slightly overpriced gourmet salad than the death-provoking highway robbery-priced ham sandwich. The fois gras and smoked salmon salad (house specialty) was dainty, but worth every bit. Washed down with Leffe. Refreshing.

My last dinner. A bit disappointing. A bit of comfort food nonetheless. Jambon and fromage crepe with an egg on top. Yup, a croque madame a la Bretagne. The best part of the meal was a rich, smokey apple cidre - served in that brown bowl.

My first glass of Cinsault! A rose, but a Cinsault rose. I've been dying to try it since I learned that Pinotage was a hybrid of Cinsault and Pinot Noir. It was interesting, and not at all like what I expected.

Martzipan potatoes and figs. They were terrible, but only because of this particular shop. A decent potato consists of a small amount of cake, covered with a thick dense layer of marzipan (shaped into a potato) and then rolled entirely in unsweetened cocoa powder. It's my mother's favorite.

Macarons! Exceptional French cookies. Melt-in-your-mouth meringue and creme and almond and wow. So colorful and dainty. Specialty macaron shops seem to be popping up like the cupcake shops were a while back in the US. Much tastier, these are. The flavors are getting super-creative. I had a bergamot flavored one!

Last but not least. Desserts (a fairly typical, but typical is extraordinary here) at Le Bistrot du Sommelier. We have a semi-fredo with raspberry (if I remember correctly), creme brulee, profiteroles (my favorite this trip), and a chocolate fondant cake with pistachio ice cream.

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The Golan Heights Winery Big Wigs (and the 7 wines we served) at our stand at Vinexpo, June 2011

I have been an international lady as of late. Blogging has suffered. The huge events that have dominated my life since my last post have been:

  • Vinexpo – Bordeaux, France – one of the largest (if not the largest) wine exhibition in the world. Kilometers long. Immense.  Exciting.  And the Golan Heights Winery (and its daughter winery, Galil Mountain), the only Israeli winery represented (and has been for over 20 years), invited me to come with them.  A brilliant week!  I spent my days speaking French with lots of wine professionals and led them through “une degustation,” a tasting, and teaching them about our wines.  I got to know the head winemakers and management well, which was so much fun – it honestly started to feel like a school trip….and the eating and drinking through the city like there was no tomorrow was certainly a perk.
  • Paris – I spent almost a week in Paris after the expo – two/three days of which was with my parents who happened to be in town, unplanned.  I spent time with family friends, too, walked all over the city, relaxed, and ate very very very well.
  • New Job! The winery hired me to manage, train, and recruit all of the wine stewards in Israel.  This is a huge honor, and it’s a job I’m loving.  It’s not easy, but it’s mainly logistics and some training.
  • New love – a beautiful, exciting, and ultimately sad story. I met a man that I’m crazy about. It has been one of the most emotionally satisfying, significant and devastating months of my life.  He is leaving to go abroad for a very long time (years) in two weeks (we will have had about 5 weeks together). I’m not sure how I’m dealing with it all.  With the new job I love and a career I’m trying to forge,  I finally accepted the fact that I’m staying here and putting a stake in this place.

ANYHOW: I will be putting together some incredible photos in the subsequent posts.  Stay posted for gorgeous food.  And I mean gorgeous food…

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Whether I like it or not, accept it or not, it’s what it is.  I’m working myself to death.  Much of the time I like what I do, but there is a good deal of time I dislike what I do.  The fact that I average 3-4 hours sleep, the fact that my university and creative work is suffering, the fact that I never see my friends – that is depressing.  And why am I writing about my misery (is it misery?) on this blog?  Well, I haven’t written in a while, and I know that when I force myself to write, I feel better, and I achieve a bit more order.  In fact, I only have about ten minutes to write right now.  Perfect.  Spitting it out.

Wine Update

Dixie – This fantastic top-rated Tel Aviv restaurant (near Azrieli – Yigal Alon 120) is hosting its annual Wine Festival in collaboration with the Golan Heights Winery and the Galil Mountain Winery.  You will find me there every lunch hour between today (well, I just finished my shift) and the 21st of May.  They are selling wines by the glass that just never get opened because they are so rare and expensive, as well as very popular wines at incredible discounts.  There is also a wine shop at the front of the store where you can buy these wines for prices lower than you can find at most wine shops.  So – for incredible meat (it’s a fantastic steak house, burgers, gourmet meat everything kind of place), and the best wine deals in town this week, head to Dixie.  To entice you, there is the Yarden Merlot from the organic vineyard Odem, available by the glass.  Brilliant wine.  Also the ever-popular and gorgeous Yarden Gewurtztraminer.

Piedmont MonthAlkalay (Alkalay 1, corner of Hashla, Basel Square), the wine bar/store at which I work is celebrating a month of wines from Piemonte, a region in northwest Italy, perhaps the very best growing region there is.  The three red varietals are Dolcetto, Barbera, and Nebbiolo.  We’ve got them all, including some fantastic Barolos and Barbarescos (if you’ve got a few hundred to shell out).  BUT there are several bottles of great stuff at great prices, 30-50 shekels per glass.  I especially love the Maria Gioana from Fratelli Giacosa, a spicy deep single vineyard Barbera, as well as a white wine, the first Cortese of Gavi I’ve ever drunk.  It is so flowery and delicious – could pass for a semi-dry wine, although it’s dry dry dry.

Person Wine News – soon to come.  I have big news, but I’m pretty certain I cannot share it yet.  I’m about to burst.

Finally, Personal Hell – I’m writing a short story I adore, and it was due two days ago – and I haven’t had a breath of time to finish a serious edit – it cannot possibly be read in its condition, despite the fact that I have the storyline down solid.  If I don’t get it done tonight, I’m in deep poo poo.  Wish me luck with finishing this story, my beloved main character Fatimah deserves her ending.

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The European oyster - the native Oyster of France - "Huître plate" or "Gravette"

I could not resist.  Many know that for the past year or so I’ve been a de facto vegetarian.  I do believe it’s OK to eat meat – I simply do not want to consume the hormones and antibiotics that swim in our meat pool.  I’m for healthy happy animals.  Regarding seafood, I’ve been on the fence.  Overfishing is a big issue, and lots of species (other than the ones being targeted) are being annihilated in the process.  As I’ve not quite made up my mind, I have simply abstained from eating all animals this year.  Until Friday.

One each of five different kinds of oysters flown in directly from France

A guy in my yoga class, someone I’ve seen once or twice a week for over a year but have never actually spoken to, mentioned to our teacher after class that there was an event at his restaurant the next day.  Turns out he’s a chef at one of my favorite wine-tapas-y-bars in town, Basta, and they were flying in crates of oysters direct from France.  Free-for-all true-blue French oysters, best in the world, from 8 am until they run out.  I knew I would be there.

So after an excruciatingly long wine tasting (hot, little business, new high heeled boots), I walked about 20 minutes until I reached the Carmel Market area, a strange yet fitting location for this bistro.  Friday is my favorite day in the shuk – I can get the best deals – everyone wants to get rid of their produce before the Sabbath starts – and I know where the best vendors are.  10 minutes later, laden with all the fruit and veg I’ll need for a month – and I’m at Basta – looking at this:

Basta's oyster spread

France and oysters go way, way back.  From Roman times when France was known for the best oysters, all the way to modernity when France became the first country in the world to start cultivating oysters on a large commercial scale – the French take their oysters and oyster culture seriously.  This fantastic website I discovered, devoted entirely to oysters, quotes the poet Léon-Paul Fargue (1876-1947): “I love oysters. It’s like kissing the sea on the lips.” So here I was, thrilled beyond belief to be sitting at this charming Tel Aviv bistro – meters from the raging-pre-Shabbat shuk, (the vendors now screaming and lowering their prices every few minutes), about to consume these gorgeous, rare gems – about to plant a slobbering wet kiss on the lips of the sea.

I think they're just as beautiful on the outside

To tell you the truth, that expression is bang-on.  I’ve always told my curious kosher-keeping friends that eating oysters is like eating a mouthful of the sea.  But kissing the sea – on the lips – oh my – that injects the sexy passion into the act of eating oysters.  It feels so natural,  feeling the cold, creamy, briny loveliness slide into your mouth.  It’s like French-kissing your food.  A food that is the embodiment of French-kissing.  But cold.  Ice cold.  Weird, I know.

And so, my friends, the time has come, to talk of cultural oyster references.  The first that comes to mind is, of course, Lewis Carroll’s poem, “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” from Alice Through the Looking-Glass.  The most famous stanza:

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

However, my most favorite oyster scene is from Tampopo.  Please excuse the inane “commentary” from the person who posted the video onto YouTube.  Just watch the movie.

Ahh! So damned good.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter, "You've had a pleasant run! Shall we be trotting home again?' But answer came there none-- And this was scarcely odd, because They'd eaten every one.

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Eating in America (continued) — Budget Vegetarian Dining Adventures

New York cuisine proved to be far more interesting than Chicago’s, although I am certain this isn’t at all a rule.  This is probably because I saw more friends, ate less at my sister’s place, and was generally “on vacation.”  Here are the places, some exceptional, some pretty mediocre, that I patronized.

  • Popover Cafe

    Popover Café – typical yuppie breakfast place with a specialty in super-inflated-fluffy popover buns (if you can call them that).  We got in early-ish (before 10:30) and didn’t have to wait for a table.  Lots of interesting egg dishes.  Funny rule in NYC – no alcohol served before 12 noon on Sundays.  I really wanted my bloody mary or mimosa.  I really did.  Finally stateside in a proper decent breakfast place, and no booze to take the edge off the weekend.  Goodness.  I made up for it that night, though.

  • Landmarc.  Ick. Ick.  Overpriced ick.  Besides a salad or something, close to no veg options of interest on the menu.  There are daily pasta specials, and one was agreed to be made for me sans meet.  The waitress went on and on about how todays risotto was great.  And I love risotto.  Better than fetuccini  alfredo any day as a veg option.  And you know what I got?  Pretty much fettuccini Alfredo.  No risotto.  We were in a hurry and I was really hungry.  I didn’t say anything.  So I’m saying something now.  First of all, if you’re a tourist in NYC – don’t go to TriBeCa besides the World Trade Center site.  Seriously, there’s nothing to see.  I really don’t want to put people down, but only wealthy artists and yuppies live seem to live there.  It’s not too pretty either.  Second, if you live there or are visiting someone who lives there, I wouldn’t go to this restaurant, especially if you don’t eat meat.  There’s a perfectly charming bakery down the block on Duane.  They’re way famous and overpriced, too, but at least you can’t mess up a cupcake or croissant too badly, and their mint tea really hit the spot when I was stuck in a huge downpour.  Just don’t eat in TriBeCa unless you do your homework.  Ugh.  At least the wine was good, and they had plenty of half-bottles.  Getting pleasantly sloshed took some of the frustration off of the crappy pasta.
  • Better Being Underground – yes that’s the name – awesomeness in a paper bag.  Tzaziki egg salad sandwich.  Incredible gourmet soup with pears and I can’t remember what else.  Not cheap but not expensive, given the amazing ingredients and speed.  It’s one of those sit-down-break-open-a-bottle-of-bubbly-just-because kind of lunches except it’s in a tiny basement without any seating and you grab what you want or wait a couple minutes while they make it for you.  Yes.  At least al fresco dining was to be had at a sweet little park across the street.
  • Food Exchange Café – At least it might be.  It could be the Oxford Café.  I can’t remember the name, so I’ve googled the entire (59th and Lexington) area, and these two seemed the likeliest candidate.  The only two options on the block, and both sound like delis.  Honestly I was only there for a few minutes.  I’m writing about it because it seemed like a typical office-worker-lunch.  Very NYC.  A hurried lunch if I’ve ever seen one.  A counter.  All the diverse, delicious sandwiches already made.  You point, they grill or not, according to what you want.  You pay somewhere else.  It comes out to you.  You stand and eat.  Or you go to a tiny park facing some giant bridge and noisy intersection on 59th.  It’s all good.  My three-cheese caprese was just that.  I miss Italy.
  • Pomme Café Astoria – it’s nice that people realize that they’ll get more business if their décor is just right.  It helps if it’s all in the right neighborhood.  And Astoria seems to be just that.  Really hip.  Lots of cool looking restaurants.  If not for the lack of high buildings and slightly shabbier look, it could be the Upper East Side, not Queens.  The food was very pretty on the plate.  My mushroom truffle risotto was perhaps the best thing I ate in NYC all week, miniscule as it was (as it should be, say I).  Again, yes, maybe I should give them a break because it is a French place, but there was nothing veg on the menu besides that risotto (an appetizer), the onion soup, and two salads.  And it was a beautiful authentic upscale French bistro menu.  Great, great, creamy, crisp crème brulee.  Just as it needed to be.  This place I would recommend.  Great drinks list.  I had Talisker and Johnny Walker Green.
  • Brooklyn Label Cafe

    Brooklyn Label Cafe – Organic tofu and cheese and potato scrambler.  Oh yeah.  My friend always gets the scrambled eggs that come with a huge side of roasted beets.  It’s delicious.  Lots of creative veg.  Lots of creative non veg.  It’s a rocking joint.  A raving recommendation from me.  It’s such a hipster spot.  Really warm and welcoming.  The food is just interesting, flavorful, and comforting.  Yay for Greenpoint!

  • Café Grumpy – Awesome green tea.  Great to work at.  Quiet.  Funky.  Yes, yes, yes.  I wish we had cafes like this in Israel.  Hip and quiet and tasty and so internet friendly you’d think it was the Skokie Public Library.  Gotta love Brooklyn!

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Eating in America – Casual Budget Vegetarian Dining

It has never been this difficult to be a vegetarian in the United States.  Perhaps I take it for granted, living in Israel – everything is so salad-based, so kosher-themed (if not kosher itself) with meat and milk being eaten separately, that more than half the choices at any given time seem to be vegetarian.  Not so in the US.  Have times changed since I was last a vegetarian (1992-2000)?  Granted, I was a child (13-21) when I last abstained from eating animals and was less aware and ate out less as a rule.

For my own sake I decided to document where I ate over the course of my trip.  Usually I made choices according to budget, convenience, and menu, in that order, unfortunately or fortunately.  I think I gained a kilo or two while away.  Oh well.

I’ll go city by city, as there’s a lot of text.  Chicago is the least interesting because I got to eat and cook at home, which is far cheaper and far far more interesting fare than at most eateries I can think of.

Chicago

  • Panera Bread – Walking into an establishment that appears so healthy, fresh, and modern like Panera Bread – and be presented with only 1 meat-free sandwich – is quite frankly appalling.  Two vegetarian soups and three simple (dull – green, Greek, etc) vegetarian salads (out of 8) were also on the menu.  I ended up taking half a Mediterranean sandwich (very dry and exceptionally uninteresting, seeing as I live on the Mediterranean coast myself) and a tomato-based vegetable soup.  First time I saw that American eateries are wild about chicken.  Ugh.
  • IHOP – The comfort factor is quite high at a place like this.  In Israel we (I) miss the fast polite service, familiar (butter soaked) foods, and endless cups of crap coffee and half & half.  There is nothing even remotely similar.  IHOP is breakfast, slightly upscale fast food (you get to sit in comfy booths and get served), cheap, and oh so traditional.  Yes, it’s crap.  But it’s good crap.  Crap you miss.  Instead of a stack of chocolate packed pancakes, my parents and I all inadvertently ordered from the “healthy choices” menu, where we could see how many calories we were actually consuming, and this with the egg-substitute, grease-free, veggie-ful type omelets.  So much for overlapping crispy meat byproduct mingling with eggs and sausage swimming in pools of maple syrup.  At least the coffee is still…coffee.  And endlessly we drank.
  • Eduardo’s – Chicago is known worldwide for its unique deep dish pizzas.  They are oh so good, lovely rustic shells of crusts, bursting with thick layers of cheese and rich tomato sauce, one slice being more than a meal in and of itself.  Anywhere but at Eduardo’s so it seems.  The service was so bad, it’s simply not worth mentioning our level of suffering.  And the pizza was crap.  I was embarrassed to be eating it with out of towners.  Enough said.  Go to Pizzeria Uno or Due or Lou Malnatti’s or Giordano’s or whatever.  Eduardo’s was never my favorite.  And I will never be going back after this.
  • The Corner Bakery – this “Lettuce Entertain You” restaurant sure has changed.  It’s fast, slightly interesting Italian, order at the counter style.  But there used to be more choices.  They used to cook most everything in front of you while you waited anxiously.  There were rosemary encrusted loaves and pine nut spinach tarts and the best ceasar salads you can imagine.  Now, eh.  You order everything, and you don’t get to see it.  It does come to your table, though. But the assembly line has taken over.  I had a three-salad combo.  Not much to choose from, I got macaroni caprese, a bean salad, and a Greek salad (I think).  They were pretty unremarkable.  Healthy-ish, though.  Filling.  Decent portion for “fast food.”  A good choice at the mall, I guess.
  • The Celtic Knot – Evanston – Awesome. Irish pub, Irish-British cuisine. Comfort food with an upscale twist. 90% meat menu, but the veg options were brilliant.  My mother had a portabella sandwich with freshly fried potato chips (not fries, for those non-American readers).  I got a warm spinach salad with goat cheese, cranberries, and candied walnuts.  That was heaven.  Best meal in Chicago, by far, and on my last night in town.  We ate the meal accompanied by Cider (mother) and a Snake Eyes for me (half cider, half lager – a drink that’s illegal in many parts of the British Isles because it’s said to raise a person’s temper and make them mean and prone to fighting.  Don’t ask me why.  Someone once ordered one when I was bartending in London, and not knowing what it was, went to the asst. manager.  He told me what it was, said I was never to make one, and then he proceeded to pour one for the gentleman because “he knew him.”)

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Morrocan chicken stew

My Morrocan chicken stew - so tender - served over couscous

Cumin, chick peas, chicken & lamb. Eggplant, coriander, courgettes & couscous.

"Casserole" in HebrewThe second of the Anglo Food Blogger’s dinner I’ve attended was held last night at Casserole (3 Lillenblum, Neve Tsedek), a trendy yet down-to-earth kosher restaurant specializing in real Middle Eastern cuisine, specifically stews and kubbehs (meat-filled semolina dumplings either boiled or fried) from Iraq, Tunisia, and Morocco. The restaurant also seems quite proud of its Arak collection.  An alcoholic anise beverage (similar to Ouzo and Pernod) served on ice, often with sprigs of mint,  it is a regional specialty and favorite.  It’s an acquired taste, and many Westerners (like us) don’t take too kindly too it.  Besides a selection of some 12 different kinds, the restaurant sports a wide variety of homemade flavored Arak.  Rare, indeed.

Dinner was organized by Miriam and Michelle, and we were joined by Sarah, Liz, and Yael, all wonderful, knowledgeable cooks and food bloggers.  I encourage you to visit their blogs – altogether they’re great way to get a real taste of Israel.

Iraqi beef stew

Iraqi beef stew

Our dinner was lovely. Rather home-cooked, yes, but very satisfying, and very very affordable.  The chicken in my Moroccan stew was as tender as you could possibly want, falling off the bone at the mere suggestion of cutlery.  I tasted the others’ kubbeh and various other stews, each as delicious as the next.  I was particularly taken by a couple of the mezes – a stewed zucchini with a generous amount of garlic cooked in it and a spicy cold eggplant dish I ate until I wiped up the bottom of the dish. Half loaves of thick white bread were served with a small bowl of pickled cabbage and carrots, as well as a small bowl of savory curried pumpkin.

Curried pumpkin spread, (juice of) beet salad, spicy eggplant & pickled veg

The conversation’s wide range spanned from translation of the names of the unique ingredients in some of the lesser-known dishes we were eating, to the particularly embarrassing state of Israeli politics and international relations at the moment, to Studio 54 (one of us had been!), Andy Warhol’s diaries, and back to Israeli wineries and the tour we’ll potentially be taking together to one when the Passover season is over. And of course, much more.

Huge kubbeh! - stuffed with lamb & cooked in broth

With only three (or four – I almost never look at salads) categories, all mains are 30 shekels, all first courses around and mezes (smaller “tastes”) between 10-20 shekels or so.  With the six of us sharing a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for 90, we each paid 50 shekels apiece.  I’m saying wow. A real deal for dinner or any meal. Especially for Neve Tsedek – yuppie-ville if ever there was one.  I’m going to have to come to Casserole again.

A super-fun evening.  I really enjoy the company of this diverse, smart group of ladies.  Seriously, folks, check out their beautiful blogs.

Casserole's interior, image from their website

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